I recently came across a discussion on LinkedIn titled, I have no choice as to whether or not I should create. It is essential to my being. The difference between Fine Art and commercial art is whether or not the artists has put their soul into a piece.”

Very thought provoking, pithy and powerful. What struck me first (other than the singular/plural typo and the pretentious capitalization) is the degree to which I agreed with the first two sentences and disagreed with the third. I’ve read many an interview, article and column from both writers and artists describing their/our innate need to do what they/we do. An artist has to draw.  A writer has to write. (Or to paraphrase Peter David’s double negative, “A writer can’t not write.” Meaning it’s more difficult to refrain from writing than to just write.) I get that.

But the soul thing?

Nope. Not at all.

There was a time, through college and up till a decade or so ago, when I would have agreed. I always reasoned that a commercial piece (work which is assigned in exchange for payment, as opposed to a piece created personally that may or may not be sold later) is full of restrictions–size, deadline, subject, sometimes technique and even style–where a personal work (fine art) is just that, personal. The artist has no restrictions or limitations other than his/her imagination and skill. So naturally the latter will have “soul” and the former would not.

However, that bit of logic is simply too narrow. It supposes that anyone receiving monetary motivation for an artistic effort would simply shut off his soul to get paid, and that the one painting without commercial compensation would always pour his soul into every single stroke. The fields of illustration, commercial art, fine art and personal art are so vast and varied as to make that impossible.


Yes, it would probably apply to an illustration of a Kellogg’s cereal box or a Goodyear tire as opposed to a Van Gogh self-portrait or a Jackson Pollack paint-throwing exercise.

But what about a typical Renaissance or Baroque figurative commission vs. a cranked-out landscape painting done to be sold as prints “for-the-masses”? An iconic Saturday Evening Post painted cover vs. an intellectual Pop-Art experiment? A personal comic book cover illustration vs. a giant copy of another artist’s single panel as a “statement”?

Michelangelo vs. Kinkade. Frazetta vs. Newman. Eisner vs. Lichtenstein. Look at the examples below:


See what I mean? Draw your own conclusions. (Keep in mind, tho, if you get paid to draw those conclusions first, they have no soul.)

Just to extrapolate, we could also throw in the “no soul” camp most of the work by Raphael, Rubens, Bronzino, Titian, Van Eyck, J.W. Waterhouse, John Singer Sargent, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Alphonse Mucha, Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, Gil Elvgren, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, John Buscema, Burne Hogarth, Hal Foster, Bernie Wrightson, Barry Windsor-Smith, Adam Hughes, Frank Cho, Alex Ross and…me! (I was not aware before reading that discussion that I never put any soul into any of my paid work. The things I learn on LinkedIn!) In other words, a bowl of collard greens and a plate of grits would have more soul than all of those guys’ commercial art put together.

Sorry. I’m not buyin’ it. Are you? Hit me with your thoughtful thoughts below.



P.S.: If you’d like your own “fine” art (as in, “Man, that is FINE!”) commission from yours truly, I’d be honored. Just ask kind Craig here. Soul included free of charge!

Published by Mike Pascale

Mike is a freelance storyboardist, artist, writer, comic book/web comic creator, graphic designer, award-winning senior art director/copywriter, Kubert School alumnus, Spectrum Fantasy Art award-winner, guitarist/songwriter, future novelist and full-time, life-long comics fan, pop culture collector, and book hoarder. His creations include Bru-Hed™ (America’s favorite Blockhead™), The Game Buzz!™ weekly webcomic, Nasti: Monster Hunter™, Mikey Moo-Moo™ and more “™s” waiting to be unleashed from his crazy cranium.

Join the Conversation

  1. Avatar
  2. Avatar
  3. Avatar


  1. Another thing writers have to do is proofread. It’s easy to find errors in others’ writing but next-to-impossible to catch all in your own.

    In the second paragraph, that should read, “An artist has to draw. A writer has to write.”

    Irony is my friend.


  2. Nice article. Most of what we now consider “Fine Art” was really only “commercial art” back in the day as it was done on commission and created to promote very specific ideas. What about “Fine” artists today who take commissions? Are they now “commercial” artists? In regards to the initial quote, how can we not leave a little of our selves (and therefore our souls) when working on something regardless of whether or not it is “Fine” or “commercial” art? We are still making decisions informed by our own experiences and training. If we have any sense of standards then we are automatically placing a value on the quality of our output. Regardless of whether it is “Fine” or “commercial”, does this value equate a soulfulness quotient? Because on some level we have to care in order to create a piece that has quality. A label of “Soulless” suggests just the opposite.

  3. ~ Great Artists Lichtenstein Ripped Off ~
    Jack Abel
    Tony Abruzzo
    Ross Andru
    Martin Branner
    Milt Caniff
    Hy Eisman
    Myron Fass
    Dick Giordano
    Jerry Grandenetti
    Russ Heath
    Gil Kane
    Jack Kirby
    Joe Kubert
    Irv Novick
    William Overgard
    Arthur Peddy
    Bruno Premiani
    John Romita
    Bud Sagendorf
    Mike Sekowsky
    George Tuska
    Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein © 2000
    David Barsalou MFA

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *